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'This Bill will provide equal religious rights to all, so faith leaders must make submissions': Gurmesh Singh MP

The enquiry committee constituted to address the concerns from various religions is inviting leaders to provide their feedback. Source: Gurmesh Singh MP

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment or Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill is currently taking feedback from religious groups and NSW Member of Parliament Gurmesh Singh is also one of the members of the committee. Mr Singh has appealed to religious leaders to come forward and provide their feedback so that the rights of all religions are protected fairly.

Gurmesh Singh was the first Sikh to be elected to any parliament in Australia, when he became the Member of Legislative Assembly from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales in 2019. The Nationals party MP is now a member of the committee involved in hearings for the Anti-Discrimination Amendment or Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill.

Speaking to SBS Punjabi, Mr Singh explains the parliamentary process.

“Initially, all religions were invited to submit their concerns and approximately 150 such submissions were received. Currently, an enquiry committee is inviting the faith leaders to explain their concerns. At the end of this four-day process, the Parliament Secretary will submit its report in March-2021 session of the parliament”.


Highlights:

    • A 12-member enquiry committee has been constituted to listen concerns and feedback from religious groups
    • It has members from various religious groups such as Christians, Muslims and Sikhs who will make sure the rights of all religions are fair, equal and protected.
    • The committee will submit its report to the parliament in six months. Communities can still provide their feedback through their local MPs.

The enquiry committee constituted to address the concerns from various religions on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act or Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill is currently inviting witnesses from various religions who had made submissions to explain their concerns.

“Even though the formal submissions are closed, the community can still provide their feedback through their local MPs. It will take another six months for the committee to prepare and submit the final report”, Mr Singh said.

Among others, this 12-member enquiry committee has members from Christian, Muslim and Sikh faiths.

“In Australia, one can not be discriminated on race, sex or age etc. But currently, there is no such legal protection on religious grounds. With this bill, religious protection will be provided to individuals and organizations”.

Since some groups have raised a concern that this bill may provide more powers to some religions than others, Gurmesh Singh says he believes that this is the reason why this bill is constituted.

“This bill is meant to address all inequality issues and will be even and fair for all”.

He says he believes that this bill is quite complex and sensitive and that’s why an enquiry committee is constituted to address all the issues before it goes to parliament.

“Normally, most of the bills are directly introduced in parliament and are passed or rejected by a vote of the members. But others are quite controversial and are made to go through an enquiry committee to address all issues. And this Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill is one of such bills”.

Gurmesh believes that religious rights are on par with other human rights and must be protected equally.

“For example, the Sikhs can’t wear their kirpan everywhere. Even while visiting parliament, the baptised Sikh members have to take special permission to wear their kirpan inside”.

“Similarly a school based on a particular religion won’t be able to refuse members from other religions who would like to join their schools. Currently, there is no such protection”, he said.

“This is a private bill and is not introduced by the government. Unlike other bills, this is quite a complex bill. But it is meant to protect religious rights of all and equally”.

To hear the full audio, please click on the audio player above. 

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